Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Essays about Orthodoxy and Protestantism

The successors to the Apostles // Has the Church ever apostatized?

The Authority of the Church

The purpose of this study is to point out certain differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy, and to arouse the interest of Protestants who have never become properly acquainted with the Orthodox Church of the Lord.



1.  Arbitrary authority

It is customary amongst Protestant religions -when someone disagrees with certain of their dogmas- to break away and form another, independent team of their own. These teams quite often evolve into self-dependent, separate religions, which baptize, distribute bread and wine, ordain “elders” and pursue many other activities.

There are also teams, even individual persons, who congregate and study the Bible without the presence of “elders”, or any other kind of infrastructure.  The latter usually believe it is wrong for someone to belong to a religion and they maintain that a Christian should remain free of any commitments in any religious area.

But, are these stances and customs proper?  Could there be something that all these people have overlooked and should re-examine?

A first question that arises in the first instance is the issue of authority. Perhaps certain people should ask themselves: “With what authority am I creating a new religion? With what right do I baptize, or distribute bread and wine, or ordain Elders? Is it really alright for one to proceed with such actions? Who put me in charge, who made me an Elder, so that I too can superintend over a new congregation?”

Similarly, those who are “independent” of religions should ask themselves:  “Is it possible for me to be following - as I claim- the paradigm of the apostles and the first Christians, when I don’t belong to any Church the way they did?  Where are the Elders of my congregation? When was someone of us ordained, by someone who had this authority? With what authority do I baptize? Is my participation in the supper of the Lord a valid one, when it is an arbitrary participation? How can I be a part of the worldwide and all-time body of the Church, when I have no communion with any of the other Churches of the Lord? Or is my team, or my person, perhaps the only one that is Christian?  So, which are the Churches of the Lord, according to the paradigm of the apostles?

As strange as it may sound to a Christian, there are many people who actually do act this arbitrarily in such important matters as faith and salvation. The reason for this behavior is that is has become a force of habit, from their Protestant roots.

When Protestantism introduced Reform in the West, it did not comprise a continuation of an apostolically rendered arrangement, it was merely an autonomous and independent protest; there was no historical continuance in their protestation, and no-one with such authority ever ordained Luther or Calvin as Elders in their new religion. Even if they had been ordained by a former Papist (since there was no-one in this new religion to perform an ordination), this ordination would still not be valid, because the Papists had already been pronounced a heretic congregation at that time. No-one from another religion would undertake to ordain Elders in a newly-formed, rivalrous faith. This would have been incongruous, because both the ordainer of the one religion and the ordained of the other religion are equally in heresy, and consequently, the ordination is deemed invalid.

So, given that Protestantism suddenly penetrated history, it naturally found itself without Elders and without any legally bestowed authority to perform its religious obligations. It was therefore compelled to act arbitrarily, from the very first moment it appeared.

Conclusion: All Protestant “elders” officiate arbitrarily; they have no historical continuance and no authority to officiate.

It is no wonder, that all affiliated Protestant groups act in a similar way; they just haven’t realized that what they do is impermissible.


2. The paradigm of the apostles

One excuse that is offered by Protestants is that since all Christians belong to a “Regal Priesthood”, they all have the authority to baptize and to elect Elders, as well as to distribute bread and wine. Thus, they do not need any special ordination for these things.  And although there is a multitude of Church regulations (Canons) that prove the absurdity of these assertions, we feel obliged to convince them of the facts, by referring them to the paradigm of the apostles themselves, since they refuse to accept the regulations of the Church.

We shall therefore prove that in the era of the apostles, the hieratic status of Christians did not comprise a prerequisite that allowed them to act arbitrarily.  We shall see how ordination as well as a given mission was compulsory, in order for someone to be able to baptize, distribute bread and wine, or superintend the Christian congregations of the first centuries.

This continues to apply in the Church of the Lord to this day, as it always did, and as is witnessed by all the proto-Christian writings that have been preserved until now.  In the narrations of the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that God did not act independently of His Church, as Protestants assert.

Let’s look at a few examples:

When the 7 deacons were elected in the Church, this didn’t take place arbitrarily; the laying on of the Apostle’s hands was necessary: “whom they placed before the apostles, and while praying, they (apostles) placed their hands upon them” (Acts 6/VI 3-6)p,

These 7 deacons weren’t “appointed” by any arbitrary religious leadership; it was after the laying on of the hands of the apostles themselves. As for the Apostles, they too had received authority for all this, from Jesus Christ Himself, and they also never acted arbitrarily: “Verily I say unto you, whatever is bound by you on earth is bound in heaven and whatever is unbound by you on earth is unbound in heaven.  And again, verily I say unto you, that if two amongst you should agree on anything that they might request, it will be done unto them, by my Father in heaven(Matthew 18/XVIII 18,19)

“..for Jesus said to them again: Peace be with you. Just as my Father sent me forth, thus I send you forth. Having said this, He blew His breath upon them and said to them: Receive Holy Spirit. If you discharge (people’s) sins, they will be forgiven; if you do not discharge them, they will be remain firm” (John 20/XX 21-23)

It is therefore clearly evident that in the Church there is a line of authority: the Father sent forth the Son, the Son sent forth the apostles, and they, with the tremendous authority that was bestowed upon them, commenced to distribute authority to others.

Let’s examine a few more tracts of the Holy Bible as examples:

When Philip the evangelist preached in Samaria - despite all the miracles that he performed – he did not have the authority to transmit the Holy Spirit into the newly baptized, because only the apostles had this authority at the time. “When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had embraced the Word of God, they sent there Peter and John, who, on their way down (to Samaria) prayed for them, so that they might receive Holy Spirit…. On seeing that the Spirit is given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, Simon brought them money, saying: “Give me this authority also, so that whomever I lay my hands on will receive Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8/VIII 4-19)

When Saul (the one who was later renamed Paul) converted to the Christian faith and was sent forth by Jesus Christ Himself, the mission and the instructions given by the very Lord were not enough!  The Lord sent him Ananias ( who was a Christian and had the power of healing ), to baptize Saul and to transmit the Holy Spirit into him. This narration is in Acts 9/IX 1 - 19.  But even Ananias, when placing his hands on Saul, declares that he had received the authority to do so: “ and on laying his hands upon him, he (Ananias) said: Saul my brother, the Lord sent me: Jesus, the One who you saw on the road that you were coming from, so that you can regain your sight and be filled with Holy Spirit.”

It is evident here, how significant the source of every authority for every action was, to the first Christians. Good intentions were not enough, not even the decision of the Lord; The act had to be endorsed by a Christian appointed by the Lord, so that everything be done in Ecclesiastic order.

But even so, the mission given directly by the Lord did not suffice for the apostle Paul. Following a revelation, he sought out the apostles that preceded him, so that he might obtain from them the authority to perform his mission of preaching to nations. This narration is in Galatians 2/II 1 - 10: ´´Then……. I went up to Jerusalem…... according to a revelation. And I reported to them (the apostles) the gospel that I preach to the nations - and personally to them that are cognizant - for them to determine whether I am -or have been- heading towards a void…….and upon ascertaining the grace that was bestowed upon me, James and Peter and John – who are believed to be pillars – offered the communion of (laid) their right hand on myself and Barnabas…..”...´´

The exact same thing happened, when the Lord sent Peter to Cornelius; the Lord didn’t send the Holy Spirit to Cornelius directly; He first sent Peter, in order to baptize Cornelius as well.  (Acts 10/X 44-48)

Even in Antioch, when the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas on a mission, this took place only after those who had the authority laid their hands upon them.   (Acts 13/XIII 1 - 3).

The apostle Paul in turn laid his hands upon Timothy, in order to convey authority to him, so that he may undertake the office of Bishop in Ephesus: ´´I wish to remind you to rekindle the charisma of God that is within you by the laying on of my hands” (Timothy  1/I 6).

In the same way, both Timothy as well as Titus in Crete had been given the authority to ordain Elders. (Timothy Á  5/V 17 - 20. Titus 1/I  5).

Saint Ignatius, a 2nd century bishop, acted in the same spirit:´´Without that (approval) of a Bishop, not even baptism is permitted...´´ (Smyrnaeans, 8). ´´It (the Eucharist) is one, being under a Bishop´´. (Magnesians, 6-7).

We see therefore, that the offices of the Church are not just for everyone who believes in Christ; the officiator has to first receive the authority from those who have it, and who can transmit it to them.

It would therefore be a wise move, for those who arbitrarily undertake Church functions, to reconsider their ways and seek to acquire the authority from those who have such authority in the Orthodox Church: from those who are the successors of the apostles according to the Lord’s intention.



Translation by A.N.

Greek text

Article published in English on: 25-7-2005.

Last update: 15-4-2012.